How do you top off too a runaway hit about zombies and independence aka Shaun of the Dead? Bring in the fuzz, the Hot Fuzz to be precise. The boys are at it again with this affectionate parody of the quintessential British cop movie with a heavy dose of Brukheimer thrown in for good measure, all under the frenetic direction of Edgar Wright. The director spoke to Paul Fischer.
Question: What kind of pressure is there to follow up on something like Shaun of the Dead? Did you feel that pressure on this?
Edgar Wright: I think it’s good to have pressure on yourself. The worst crime is to get kind of really complacent. Me and Simon worked really hard on the script and we kind of beat ourselves up and we’re very kind of hypercritical, and so it’s good to have pressure. I mean it was weird in terms of when we made Shaun of the Dead. There wasn’t really that much expectation about us making a film. There was from people who liked our TV show, but you know we could kind of do it under the radar and this time it was a bit different. Even just filming it on location was kind of interesting because you’d have people watching the entire time.
Question: You had more money yo spend on Hot Fuzz I presume?
Edgar Wright: Yeah, not as much as you would think though. I mean we had like double the budget of Shaun, but even double the budget of Shaun is still a tenth of what Miami Vice costs or Bad Boys II.
Question: What made you want to spoof a cop drama?
Edgar Wright: Me and Simon we always sort of shy away from using the ‘S’ word, spoof, I mean It’s definitely got parody elements to it but unlike spoofs like Scary Movie, we see this as very much like a celebration, like an homage or a tribute to those films, a love letter. Not only am I a big fan of cop and action films, but also there’s no precedent for it in the U.K. and so there just aren’t any British cop films at all. There hasn’t been one for 30 years or more even, so that really kind of was the inspiration. There’ve been far too many British gangster films and it was time to kind of let the British bobby be a bit more badass. A lot of ‘b’s in that sentence. [Laughs]
Question: Did you care that you’re making a film that, even though it’s going to be seen in America, didn’t cater toward an American audience so much?
Edgar Wright: I have to say when we did Shaun of the Dead and we did the press tour for that here, it was incredibly encouraging in every city – be it like Detroit, Phoenix, Miami – they laughed in all the same places as they did in the U.K. and there was very little that got lost, so that was just encouraged me to write because I think as with all international filmmakers, why make something that’s kind of transatlantic if you’re making a British film, then it’s a British film and you should kind of revel in that. I think people kind of like that aspect because I suppose for audiences over here it seems completely fresh. Nobody would want to watch that kind of standardized version of Amelie. Do you know what I mean? It’s like you want to see like a really French film. The thing with Hot Fuzz is different from Shaun is I suppose the joke is on one hand it’s very, very British, and then in the last half it starts to become really American and that was kind of the joke. The further it goes along, the more it starts to mutate into like a Bruckheimer film and that was the joke.
Question: How involved are Simon and Nick in not only the characters but the script, and once you’re on set, how free do you let them be?
Edgar Wright: Well me and Simon write the script so we’re co-writers. What we tend to do is we don’t improvise on set at all because we know exactly who the actors are going to be. It’s very easy to write for Nick because he’s our best friend, so you can totally write what’s going to be great coming out of his mouth. What we do is we finish the script and then the first person we show it to, apart from the producer, is Nick and then he kind of brings out some elements to it. I’d say he kind of has up to three zingers and the ‘ho, ho, hmmm’, they’re like his kind of improvisations. But what we tend to do is then we rehearse, first with Simon and Nick, and then with all of the actors. We rehearse with pretty much all of the actors apart from maybe Bill and Martin and Steve in the first scene. Everybody else we rehearsed with. If there’s kind of improvisations that come out of that that are really good, we then write them into the script, so then on the day it’s completely locked down because we don’t really have the time to kind of like… There are great comedies that do that kind of thing like Talladega Nights and like Forty Year Old Virgin where they just riff and riff and riff, but because of the way that Hot Fuzz is shot and because there’s thriller and action elements to it as well, you can’t just be improvising wildly all the time. But what we try to do by doing that rehearsal process which a lot of films don’t do… it’s quite unusual for films to rehearse which I find absolutely crazy because that’s where you really nail it down.
Question: How did Timothy Dalton become involved?
Edgar Wright: We just approached him. When we were writing that character, we had in the description of his character ‘a Timothy Dalton type’ because we wanted somebody who looked way too handsome to be a supermarket manager. [Laughs] What was great this time is I think probably because it was actually relatively easy getting sort of the actors of the older generation because some of them are already fans of Shaun, like Jim Broadbent actually approached us and said that he’d love to work with us in the future and this is before we’d started writing. So you kind of have those kind of things where people like Paddy Considine or Jim Broadbent say ‘What’s the next film? Can I be in it?’ When you’re writing, you think, ‘Hmmm, Jim Broadbent. Here’s a part for you.’ Timothy Dalton had seen Shaun of the Dead in L.A. with his son and loved it and so it was great. I think probably because in the last film, in Shaun of the Dead, what’s been really nice with these two films is to be able to kind of cast older actors, who either have been brilliant comedians or just kind of like straight actors, and let them have fun with it. And in Shaun we had Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton. I think for the acting community in the U.K. that was sort of like breaking out of the box a little bit because the stuff we’d done before we’d worked with all the younger comedians and having two really respected actors and both giving really great performances and I think that put us in a good stead for Hot Fuzz because then there were people like Billy Whitelaw and Edward Woodward and Stuart Wilson, they were really up for being on board which was great.
Question: What about shooting the action sequences. There were some quite major set pieces in this movie. What kind of challenges did you face doing that and was it daunting to deal with that kind of stuff?
Edgar Wright: It was daunting in terms of the budget. Everything that I’ve done so far has had a bigger budget than the last, but I’ve never ever felt the benefit of the bigger budget because the ideas always exceed the budget. So we got double the money of Shaun of the Dead, however, the ambition of the film was like five times that. So that was tough and also partly the reason there aren’t any British action films is because the weather is absolutely shit. [Laughs] And so filming outside and doing the big shootouts and stuff, you’re completely captive to whatever the British weather throws at you. But we persevered and also with this one, what was really more essential was everything was on location. There were very, very few sound stage kind of days at all, so pretty much everything was on location which actually made it really fun. But like that shootout in the town square was shot without really having the roads closed off, so every shot you see, you’ve got to imagine that behind the camera there’s like 50 old ladies and school children. It was really strange.
Question: So by the end when you do have that kind of mimicry of the Bruckheimer films, I was waiting for the shot where they look exactly like they do in Bad Boys II where the camera does a full 360 around it.
Edgar Wright: It does that.
Question: You do kind of do a pan, but it’s not like a scene for scene type thing so…?
Edgar Wright: No, you know what we did, we did do it all in one shot but I couldn’t resist kind of going so crazy with the edit. We did have a camera on a segue so, yeah, we did the sort of… We had a Steadycam on a segue spinning around, so we did do that shot.
Question: Have you got a call from Jerry yet?
Edgar Wright: No, but I hope he sees it. I’d really like Jerry Bruckheimer and Joel Silver to see the film. Shane Black has seen it, so that was good.
Question: Can you talk about your experience doing the Don’t trailer in Grindhouse?
Edgar Wright: That was a blast. I actually finished it like a month ago or less than a month ago. It was absolutely crazy. It was the first one to be written and the last to be shot because I’ve been busy with Hot Fuzz. I think me and Eli [Roth]… I think Quentin [Tarantino] asked us together when we were in L.A., maybe like in 2005 when they were starting to prep Grindhouse, and Quentin asked me and Eli Roth if we’d do a trailer each and we’re like ‘Oh yeah, we’re absolutely flattered and honored.’ So I wrote it back in 2005, and I remember going for a drink with Quentin and acting it out for him and pitching it to him which is crazy, and then I heard that when they were talking to the Weinsteins about it that Quentin acted out my version of the trailer which is something I wish I could have that on tape. It’s something I just want to see [imitates Quentin’s voice] ‘here’s the deal, right?’ I just want to see Quentin’s version of the trailer. I had such a blast doing it, and I actually shot it the day before the prepping of Hot Fuzz in the U.K. I shot part of it and then the film came out and then I shot the rest of it sort of like the weekend after Hot Fuzz came out, so it was actually crazy and then I had like six days to finish the whole thing before going to Australia and New Zealand. I’m so pleased with that and it’s got such a crazy… You know it’s only 90 seconds long and it has like 30 actors in it.
Question: Do you have any idea where you’ll go from here now having dealt with zombies and cops?
Edgar Wright: Having done Hot Fuzz and Grindhouse, I am going to take the next ten years off. [Laughs]
Question: The next ten years off? Are you sure? I don’t think your fans will allow that to happen.
Edgar Wright: No, there’s things in the pipeline. It’s weird we’ve been asked this question so much on the tour and it’s something that’s kind of… It’s ironic because it doesn’t kind of come up like that and people kind of say, ‘Ah, you’ve done zombies, you’ve done cops, what’s next?’ We think that both of them came about quite organically in a way like Shaun of the Dead, even though it was a zombie film, is essentially a film about turning 30 and having relationship issues and that’s what it was about and living in north London. And in a weird, weird way, even though it’s kind of ridiculous, Hot Fuzz is quite – it’s not autobiographical, but it’s quite personal because it’s set in my home town and it’s where I grew up. There’s elements of that story, even the things with the neighborhood watch that are kind of like based on … You know, my mom is a big conspiracy theorist and she used to be obsessed by the Freemasons, and she used to be obsessed when we had a planning commission and like an extension on our house got turned down and my mom was convinced it was the masons. You know, it was probably true. She was probably right. It just conjured up images of like… that you’d have these ancient rituals of like the lodge or the Freemasons sitting around going, [authoritative voice] ‘Ah now, this person has an extension.’ [Laughs] I’m sure that kind of thing happens, but I just thought this is so ridiculous that you’d have these kind of like ancient, secret sects that would put the kabbash on people’s lives and extensions. [Laughs]
Question: The big reveal on that scene got the biggest reaction.
Edgar Wright: Oh that’s cool. And it’s funny because people say, ‘Is that kind of like a Wicker Man reference?’ and it’s like, ‘Well, no, it’s like listening to my mum’s conspiracy theories.’ [Laughs]
Question: Is there a particular or favorite genre that you have a burning desire to do?
Edgar Wright: Well you know I’d like to do… the thing that we kind of do is we kind of make films that you just don’t see in the U.K. – not to diss British cinema because there’s lots of great British films – but we don’t really make genre films anymore. So that what’s fun for us is to kind of do things that people don’t do. Obviously there’s a great tradition of British horror films in the 50s, 60s and 70s, but there’s actually no kind of cop films at all.
Question: Do you guys always work together or have you got offers as a stand alone director to make films in the Hollywood studios?
Edgar Wright: Yeah, absolutely. It’s funny like sometimes in a kind of like this sort of… It annoys me sometimes back in London because I am sort of like developing some films here. In fact the next film might be something that’s kind of like a proper American film. I remember somebody coming up to me at the working title party or something and kind of chastising me for doing a film in the States. And the thing that I said is I actually turned down five or six really big films here to do Hot Fuzz. I said I actually had the chance after Shaun of the Dead to do Hollywood films and instead I made the most British film I possibly could. So I took the person to task. [Laughs]
Question: Would you do a sequel to Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz?
Edgar Wright: I wouldn’t do a sequel to Shaun of the Dead. It would be fun to do a sequel to Hot Fuzz, but the weird thing is it’s kind of like both films, they kind of wrap up. You could do Further Adventures of Angel and Butterman, but the weird thing is that Simon’s character has gone on such a journey and he’s changed so much by the end, it would kind of be weird to do a second film where he’s in the same mode that he ends up at. You know that’s why the Matrix sequels don’t work. When the end of the first film is your character becoming a god, where else can it go? The second one starts with like ‘well, maybe he isn’t a god. Okay, and now he is.’ [Laughs] So when your character becomes omnipotent by the end of the first film, there is no where else to go. And I think the thing with Hot Fuzz is …
Question: It’s hot, right?
Edgar Wright: You know that’s why the title of the film comes right at the end is because it hasn’t become Hot Fuzz until the end credits. It’s taken two hours to become Hot Fuzz. At the start it was just Lukewarm Fuzz and then it kind of ramps itself up in the last half an hour.
Question: Are there any actors you would like to work with that you haven’t yet?
Edgar Wright: Yeah, I think sometimes the way that we approach casting is people that we either want to work with or people that we want to see in this kind of film or even actors that we haven’t seen for a while and we really like. So that was great. You know Billie Whitelaw is actually retired and we kept getting told that no, Billie’s retired, and we kept badgering to kind of get her in the film and eventually she… I had such a blast with her. She’s fantastic, so fun. Yeah. So it’s really like fun to kind of write these parts and then go after a Timothy Dalton or Paul Freeman and Stuart Wilson, I’ve been such a huge fan of Stuart Wilson, and you know I think he’s really underrated in a way. He’s such a chameleon that people don’t even realize the films that he’s in. He’s been in so many films. So it’s great. I don’t know what other people – Alfred Molina, Gary Oldman, there’s loads of great British actors that I’d like to work with.
Question: So Point Break, is that one of your favorite films? And Bad Boys II?
Edgar Wright: Yeah, and I like Bad Boys II as well. We didn’t pick those two as objects of ridicule but they are kind of, and the reason we picked those two films is we thought Danny Butterman, those would be his two favorite films and they’re kind of like… The reason we picked them is because it’s kind of what Hot Fuzz eventually aspires to is being really like dumb popcorn fun, and I mean that as a compliment. You know both those films are about nothing except entertainment and spectacle and smashing things up. You can say whatever you like about Bad Boys II, but if you spend $130 million smashing cars up, it’s going to be worth watching. [Laughs]
Question: Did you have to get the rights to or permission to use those movies?
Edgar Wright: You have to clear it, absolutely. In fact, you have to clear everything. Like with the Point Break clip, you have to get signatures from Keanu Reeves, Patrick Swayze, Patrick Swayze’s stuntman. You have to get signatures even for the DVD covers. Probably the most expensive shot in the film bizarrely is the one with the DVD bargain bin at the end, because every single film that’s on there – and we picked all of the films – they were very specific, all of the films – Out for Justice, Sudden Impact, Extreme Prejudice – you have to get the rights to all of those. So it always makes me laugh when the credits roll up at the end and part of it says ‘Still from one tough bastard.’ [Laughs] That always makes me laugh.
Question: But you saved money sticking Zombie Party in there.
Edgar Wright: Yes, absolutely.
Question: Has Keanu seen the end credits?
Edgar Wright: No, he hasn’t. I hope he does though. We’re trying to get him to come along to one of the screenings. I hope he does.
Question: He would laugh at that.
Edgar Wright: I would think so. It’s a celebration of his finest moment. [Laughs] Oh I love that bit. It’s great. It’s great.
Question: Did you feel that Bad Boys II embodied that concept more than Bad Boys I?
Edgar Wright: Yeah, I think so. I kind of think that Bad Boys II is sort of the nineties version of Freebie and the Bean. It’s totally like in the sixties you’ve got It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, seventies Freebie and the Bean, Eighties Blues Brothers, I’m not sure what the 90s one is, and Bad Boys II is the one for the 21st century when you have just huge fucking destruction. [Laughs] What would be the 90s one? That’s bugging me. I’ll have to think about that, work out my theory.